Thousands of people who were exposed to dust and debris following the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center will now receive compensation for any of 50 types of cancer, according to a federal health official’s ruling. This decision comes in response to concerns that those who were near the site of the attack were exposed to “carcinogenic” dust and debris.
The director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), Dr. John Howard, announced on Friday that these 50 cancers, which include colon, breast, lung, and skin cancers, will be added to a list of ailments covered in a $4.3 billion fund. Anyone who was subsequently diagnosed with one of the covered cancers and who worked, lived, or went to school in lower Manhattan between Sept. 11, 2001 and May 30, 2002 will be eligible for compensation. Dr. Howard based his decision on recommendations from a scientific and technical advisory committee, as well as a study in The Lancet, which found that firefighters who were exposed to toxic substances at ground zero were 20 percent more likely to develop cancer than firefighters who weren’t exposed.
But while helping people who experienced the traumatic events surrounding the Sept. 11 attacks is certainly a noble cause, we here at ACSH join with numerous epidemiologists who have expressed concern that the decision to compensate those affected by cancer is not scientifically founded. For instance, Dr. Alfred Neugut, an oncologist and epidemiology professor at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia believes that this latest NIOSH decision was “primarily motivated by concern for a sympathetic population.” He adds, “The scientific evidence currently is certainly weak; whether future evidence bears out the wisdom of this decision will have to be seen.”
And not all the repercussions of such a broad compensatory measure will necessarily be positive. Considering that the size of the 9/11 federal health care fund is fixed, compensating those diagnosed with one of the covered cancers will reduce the amount available for those who suffered from ailments much more clearly linked to the attacks, such as respiratory or gastrointestinal problems.
“This decision will give compensation to people who smoked for decades and then got lung cancer 10 years after the 9/11 attacks — a case where there is little question that the cancer was caused by something other than exposure at ground zero,” observes ACSH’s Dr. Gilbert Ross. “I suspect that this decision has more to do with political expediency than anything else.”
ACSH’s Dr. Elizabeth Whelan adds, “While these people’s suffering is certainly real, there is not any evidence that their cancers were caused by their exposure at 9/11. Illustrative of the true basis of this ruling is Dr. Howard’s decision to give awards to childhood cancers as well. This is not a scientifically sound decision.”